As I sit here in my home on a beach on an island in the Philippines, I can't help but reflect on my journey towards essentialism, minimalism, and mindfulness.
How it all began
I think it all started when I met a woman on a creative writing course in 2013 who shared her bold decision to downsize her life, sell everything, and move into a furnished apartment with her partner.
They even made a pact to get rid of things they hadn't used in three months. I was blown away by how completely militant that idea was!
Her story got me thinking about my own consumption habits and the value of my possessions, both monetarily and sentimentally.
Over the course of the last two decades, I've acquired an excess of material possessions that I've come to realise I didn't truly need. Looking back, I now have the familiar regret of wondering, "What if I had saved that money instead of indulging in unnecessary purchases?" My financial situation could have been vastly different if I had been more mindful of my spending habits.
But it's not helpful to dwell on regrets.
The origins of my excess
I traced this urge to accumulate possessions back to my childhood, where I grew up with very little. I remember feeling inferior compared to my friends who had more material wealth, from fancy clothes to overseas vacations and beautiful homes.
I made a secret pact with myself that I would never live like that again. This mentality of scarcity translated into a mindset of abundance as I grew older, possibly fuelled by the belief that I would always be financially taken care of.
But over time, I've come to realise that creating and hoarding possessions doesn't bring lasting happiness. It's just a temporary high that wears off quickly.
The constant desire to acquire more stuff created a burden and distraction in my life, cluttering not just my physical space but also my mind.
Making essential changes post-burnout
So after quite a long period of percolating these ideas, feeling stuck and after a final burnout in 2020, I gradually decided to make big changes.
Another key piece of the puzzle was the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, which I'd bought a few years back but finally read in 2021. He explained how essentialism is fundamentally about designing and taking control of your life. You choose the right things you must do, reject everything else, and direct your time and energy to create the biggest impact where it matters.
It made incredible sense to me. With simplicity, it requires simplifying, decluttering, and freeing ourselves from unnecessary complexities or excess. It involves a focus on the essentials and a lack of unnecessary complications or distractions.
The theme of simplicity
Earlier this year, the word that resonated so strongly with me was simplicity. I decided to make this my word for 2023.
A simple life means living with minimal material possessions and a focus on what truly matters, such as relationships, experiences, personal growth, and well-being.
It may involve intentionally reducing material possessions, decluttering physical and mental spaces, and simplifying daily routines and activities.
The move to the Philippines
And so that is what I did... I sold most of my possessions, put our house up for rent, put a few boxes in storage, and, with my partner and kids, made the decision to move to the Philippines to live more simply.
We now have a rented, furnished home with just the essentials - clothes, kitchen appliances, and linen. My days are filled with homeschooling my kids, reduced working hours with clients, simplified shopping, and eating. It's a minimalist lifestyle that has brought us less stress and more focus on what truly matters.
During this phase of my life, I'm committed to being more mindful of my consumption habits. Each day, I ask myself if I truly need something before making a purchase. I also ask whether I can take it with me as a travel lightly through Southeast Asia, this is an essential way of thinking.
I'm also challenging my belief that I need many options to feel safe, as I've realised that too many choices can be overwhelming and distracting.
As I look ahead to the future, I know there will be challenges, such as when we eventually move again and have to pack up our belongings. But I'm determined to continue on this path of minimalism and mindfulness, prioritising experiences and relationships over possessions.
Significant mental health and financial benefits
The results for my mental health and well being have been significant. My anxiety levels are down, there is space in my day, and I'm feeling fulfilled and satisfied. So, this experiment seems to be working.
Consolidating our finances, making intentional plans to pay off our debt, renting our home out in Cape Town, and decreasing our costs of living have been real proponents of my decreased anxiety levels.
We've realised that we really don't need a lot to live on, and if we are clever, we can live a beautiful life when we decrease what we spend on superfluous things - coffee, treats, and junk food. When you don't have access to these luxuries, you realise how little you truly need them. The financial (and weight-loss) benefits are significant :)
I've found that it's the simple moments in life and connections that bring true joy and fulfilment to my life. I've learned that true richness comes from collecting memories, not things.
And so far, my experiment in simplicity is working.